Feeding toddlers doesn’t have to be stressful.  At my office I talk to parents of toddlers all the time about the frustrations of feeding their picky, unpredictable and stubborn little ones. Here are a few points to keep in mind when feeding toddlers:

1)   TODDLERS DON’T NEED MUCH FOOD- In the first year of life the growth curve is very steep and parents get used to their kids gaining a lot of weight every time they visit the doctor.  After the first year, however, the growth curve flattens considerably.  Toddlers don’t grow as fast, so they don’t need a lot of food. Many parents expect that children at this age need more food than they do, and they get frustrated when their kids don’t meet their expectations.  If you lower your expectations you won’t be so disappointed when they turn your nose up at the food you offer! Since they are not eating much, make every calorie count towards offering the most nutrition.

2)   TODDLERS EAT UNPREDICTABLY- Remember that they don’t need much food.  They also don’t need food all the time.  I see so many kids snacking continously at home, in the car and at my office. This contant eating pattern sets up bad habits where kids are over-snacking.  Just make food available when you normally eat, and if they are not hungry, don’t force them to eat. If they eat a big breakfast and are not hungry for lunch that okay. Kids need to learn their own hunger cues and how to eat when they need food, not when other people tell them to eat.

3)   DON’T GET ON THE “JUICE TRAIN!”- There is an epidemic of tooth decay and obesity in preschoolers.  Largely these two problems are fueled by JUICE.  Just because it’s fruit juice, doesn’t mean it’s that good for you. Juice has roughly the same sugar content as a soda and not that much nutrition either.  Get your kids drinking WATER, which is a habit that will help keep them healthy for their lives.  If you do offer juice, serve it ONLY with meals and keep it to less than 4-6 oz. a day. To lessen the stress of having to say no to more juice, don’t buy it or keep it in the house. Instead let juice be an occasional treat when kids are offered at a birthday party, for example. Even though juice is a WIC approved-food it’s one that should be SKIPPED AT HOME!

4)   DON’T GET ON THE “JUNK FOOD TRAIN”- I see many parents offering salty, sweet, fattening junk food or filler foods like colorful crackers and fruit snacks because they are desperate to get their children to eat. However, when we offer these foods instead of nutritious whole foods then we are teaching the to fill up on easy, empty calories and not giving them the chance to practice healthier foods.  Remember it may take a dozen times for a child to learn to love a new food. Start this process of exposure to nutritious food early, so that by the time they go to preschool they’ve already begun to love healthy food.

5) MAKE HEALTHY FOOD APPEALING– Take advantage of the fact that vegetables and fruit are colorful and beautiful.  Put a small quantities of a variety of foods on a pretty tray. Use fun shapes and dips to encourage kids. Offer foods in small, manageable, bite-sized peices. Model healthy eating by showing how much you enjoy these foods. Even better, make food appealing by getting toddles involved. Even small children can help rinse and scrub veggies.  Check out my post on “Ten Ideas for Finger Foods for Babies and Toddlers” for more ideas.

Take a deep breath and know that if you make good whole foods available to most toddlers that they will eat enough to grow and will the develop the taste for a healthy diet! For more ideas on understanding how to raise a toddler into an adventurous eater including how to get toddlers involved in the kitchen, check out my book “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater” which I co-authored with feeding specialist Melanie, Potock. We cover a lot of great strategies for kids from birth to school age.

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